Hong Kong universities losing appeal to mainlanders

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/23 23:43:40

Economic uncertainty, security concerns deter mainland applicants

The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Photo: VCG

For students in the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong used to be a favorable destination for further study.

Hong Kong universities have a good international reputation, and are also cheaper and closer to home than studying in a foreign country. 

But today, this advantage is losing ground among mainland students. 

Some mainland students are giving up on Hong Kong as their study choice next year and others have already changed plans for the new semester, according to Chinese mainland experts and students interviewed by the Global Times. 

They note that months of political chaos and economic consequences have prompted students to reconsider their options and this in turn will likely exert a long-term impact on Hong Kong's education market.

Zhang Xianrui, a junior at Taiyuan University of Science and Technology in North China's Shanxi Province, told the Global Times that he had thought about applying for postgraduate degree at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. But due to safety concerns, he decided not to apply. 

"My parents would be worried about my safety if I study in Hong Kong," Zhang said.

Safety is often cited as the main concern for studying in Hong Kong now, noted a Chinese mainland agent for students considering further study outside the mainland. 

"Prospective students would worry about whether they will be safe on campus or on the streets, and whether they will face discrimination," said Liu Baoguo of Beijing-based Wutong World Education Consulting Company.

Chinese mainland analysts said that such worries are not unwarranted as protesters also assaulted and beat ordinary people who hold different views in Hong Kong, and those from the mainland could be particularly targeted.

Since the new semester began on September 2, strikes and protests have hit universities, including the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), a key gathering point. 

On the afternoon of September 2, thousands of Hong Kong students rallied at CUHK and chanted protest slogans, filling up the main library areas in a sea of black. 

During the protest, they besieged a red-shirted mainland student who shouted, "I'm a Chinese!"

A 22-year-old mainland postgraduate student of CUHK who gave his surname as Cheng described the scene as "terrifying and annoying."

Cheng told the Global Times his parents accompanied him to the university a week prior to the new semester for safety reasons and he has been striving hard to adapt himself to a social and campus environment hostile to the mainland.

A radical protester in Hong Kong Photo: AFP

Adapt or quit

Cheng said he feels depressed whenever he sees strikes and protests on campus and is disappointed with the university for "indulging such actions."

He was happy with the academic level of the teachers, Cheng said, but he had to "try very hard" to ignore the anti-mainland message boards on campus and be careful about what he says.

"I don't want to be besieged and assaulted by local students simply because I speak Putonghua and express my love for the country," Cheng said.

"I know we mainland students should just focus on our study, but sometimes I just cannot," he said. "To be honest, I regret choosing Hong Kong to study."  

Another mainland student said that before protests erupted, she had chosen Nanjing Normal University over CUHK for her postgraduate studies and now feels vindicated. 

"I felt the hostility when I dined at a restaurant near Harbour City last year, and I'm scared to face the unfriendly atmosphere on campus," said the girl who gave her surname as Ge. 

Ge told the Global Times that mainland universities have higher requirements for students than Hong Kong universities, which means the quality of students is higher at mainland universities. 

"Students are not even required for IELTS or TOEFL scores when applying for some Hong Kong universities," she said.

Losing appeal

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020 released on September 12 lists almost 1,400 universities across 92 countries and regions. 

Six are Hong Kong universities: Hong Kong University, University of Science and Technology, CUHK, City University, Polytechnic University and Baptist University.

Only Hong Kong University moved up one place higher than last year, coming 35th. CUHK dropped from 53rd to 57th, the University of Science and Technology down from 41st to 47th and City and Polytechnic also declined. 

Reuters reported in late August that Singapore universities cancelled exchange programs in Hong Kong after the city state warned its citizens to defer travel to Hong Kong amid mass protests which had become unpredictable and could turn violent at any time.

Stanford University also announced it would suspend the Bing Overseas Studies Program in Hong Kong for Autumn Quarter 2019 due to student safety and security concerns.

Song Xiaojin, general manager of Beijing Forward Education consulting agency, told the Global Times the number of mainland applicants that her agency handled to Hong Kong universities for the 2020-21 academic year had fallen up to 30 percent compared to last year.  

Song said mainland students applying to Hong Kong universities average 25 percent of all the applicants her agency receives each year.

Many who applied to Hong Kong universities also applied to universities in countries like Singapore and Canada, Song noted, adding that Thailand has been an emerging study destination for mainland students. 

Hong Kong universities excel in finance, law and business, Song said, but some high-quality students will go to other places out of safety concerns. For instance, those who eyed law school in Hong Kong University will turn to the law school at the National University of Singapore.

"From a long-term perspective, if Hong Kong's political situation continues to worsen and its international financial center status is threatened, it will certainly exert a negative impact on its education market," Song told the Global Times.

In the academic year of 2017/18, around 12,000 non-local students in University Grants Committee (UGC) funded universities in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) came from Chinese mainland, according to statista.com. 

UGC is an advisory committee responsible for counseling the HKSAR government of higher education in Hong Kong. There are eight UGC funded universities in Hong Kong including the University of Hong Kong and City University of Hong Kong.


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